Star is rising for east Belfast’s Gareth

Singer/songwriter Gareth Dunlop
Singer/songwriter Gareth Dunlop

East Belfast singer/songwriter Gareth Dunlop has been enjoying huge success for his style of country and folk-inspired balladry. Ahead of his performance at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival he talks to JOANNE SAVAGE

One of Northern Ireland’s most interesting new singer/songwriters, east Belfast’s Gareth Dunlop, 26, enjoys musical kudos based on a wonderful singing voice and a strong body of material, influenced by soul, country, folk and blues.

Gareth has a long association with the BelNash Festival at which he was awarded Young Songwriter of the Year back in 2011.

He has also performed in Nashville, which led to three of his songs being featured in the movie Safe Haven, and numerous hit American television series including Cougar Town and House.

“The Belfast Nashville Festival was pivotal in moving things forward for my music,” says Gareth, who sings with real heart and commitment to the melodies and the sentiments of his songs.

“For this year’s 10th anniversary festival it felt like a great excuse to put on my own gig in the Empire with the band.”

Gareth’s brand new track, Keep Coming Back, co-written with songstress Kim Richey, will feature in the brand new series of the hugely popular American television show, Nashville.

“From what I understand,” confides Gareth, “the song is going to be written into the storyline so that the characters will be singing my song. And three days ago the show’s producers called me to say that they would like to use another of my songs further down the line. It feels amazing and like such validation after a lot of hard work.”

You can hear the gratitude and sense of amazement in his voice.

How does this king of country-pop balladry operate when it comes to writing lyrics that Nashville itself is impressed by?

“Oh it depends,” says Dunlop, who is tired (since he and his partner welcomed a baby girl in December).

“Sometimes it’s spontaneous, a chord or a line sparks if all off in your head. Other times I deliberately sit down with the blank page in front of me and see what pops out.”

Does he believe in the old cliché that the best musical inspiration, lyric-wise, comes in times of misery rather than the even keel and gentle numbing quality of contentment?

“Maybe that is true. Somehow it’s always easy to sing the blues. Maybe we all just love complaining too much!”, he offers. Dunlop explains that he began his musical career wanting to be like Jimmy Page strumming demonically on his electric guitar, but it was later, when he began listening to people like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, that his musical tastes turned in a completely different direction – towards Nashville-style balladry, heartfelt chords, poetic lyrics.

“I switched to the acoustic guitar and worked hard on lyrics that would resonate with people.”

For the time being, dealing with a newborn and between times writing music – he describes his life at the moment as “really quite chaotic, but in a good way” – Dunlop is looking forward to performing at BelNash and at the ever-popular Empire in Belfast, which remains an epicentre of musical cool – a place where old and new talent emerges to applause in the heart of the city.

See Gareth Dunlop perform on March 1 at the Music City Roots Show with Chip Taylor and Jim Lauderdale and again on March 6 with his band, also at the Empire Music Hall, Belfast.